Road tripping in Southern Utah – Ryan Wilson

Road tripping in Southern Utah
Words and photos by Ryan Wilson

Utah has always been on a list with Colorado, the Alps, Pyrenees, and few other places that I’ve wanted to go to, but knew I’d never have enough time to do and see everything I wanted to do there. It always made me hesitant to commit to a shorter trip. However, a few weeks ago I saw a small window of opportunity, and finally decided I’d rather see a fraction of it than none, so I took the 6 hour haul from Los Angeles to the southwestern corner of Utah to hit a few big climbs and national parks. The plan was to try to squeeze a couple rides and hikes in through Zion, Bryce, and some of the surrounding mountains in 4 days.

#lightbro on the Zion switchbacks

Day one started early, but it’s never early enough when you’ve got 6+ hours to drive to the first ride of the trip. By the time I got rolling up the 23 mile climb to Kolob Reservoir along the western edge of Zion National Park, it was already 1:30pm (Mountain time), with temperatures hitting triple digits. I spent what seemed like the entire ride working my legs out of their road trip coma, even with the help of a generous tailwind that I would pay dearly for a few hours later.

Navajo Trail

Having done most of my riding in California, the change of landscape in Utah was an immediate and welcome change of pace. Trading in golden hills, granite peaks, and redwoods for red cliffs, buttes, and hoodoos. Eventually climbing above the cliffs and into high country.

Entering the east side of Zion

If I’ve learned anything in doing these rides in unfamiliar areas it’s that no matter how solid the plan seems going in, it’s always a good idea to deviate from that when an opportunity present itself. Rarely do I do a route now without taking short (or long) detours on little off-the-grid side roads that I didn’t notice on the map beforehand, but look too good to just pass by.

Hiking through Bryce Canyon

The following days I climbed one of the highest roads in Utah through Dixie National Forest, hiked through Bryce Canyon, and eventually made my way back to Zion via the eastern entrance. Entering Zion Canyon for the first time was comparable only to the feeling I get being surrounded by granite cliffs in Yosemite Valley. The section of switchbacks on the road out of the canyon toward the Zion tunnel is one of the most amazing stretches of road I’ve ever ridden (just make sure to get there early in the morning to beat the traffic).

Fording "The Narrows"

Possibly the most memorable part of the trip to Utah didn’t involve a bike at all, though. On the 3rd day I decided at the last minute to hike through “The Narrows” along the Virgin river. Typically this is one you want to be at least slightly prepared for as it involves walking (wading) about 6 miles directly up stream and back on a river that runs through a narrow gorge surrounded by 1,300+ft cliffs, with water as deep as 3-4 feet at times, the entire width of the “trail”. Wearing normal shoes, and not having an extra pair around is not ideal, but it turns out it is totally worth it.

Valley of Fire

On the way back to Los Angeles on the final day, knowing I didn’t want to drive all the way through the inland empire at rush hour on a weekday anyways, I decided to make one last detour to the “Valley of Fire” in Nevada. I had no real idea what to expect from it, but I just about flipped out when I ended up on a little road through the park called “Mouse’s Tank road”. Trust me, if you’re ever in the area, check it out.

A few Strava routes from the trip:

Kolob Reservoir
Cedar Canyon
Zion Canyon
The Narrows

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  • hans

    damn! killing it as always. pure inspiration.

  • AttackCowboy

    I haven’t been down there since I was a kid but I still remember van-camping in the snow and then hiking into Bryce then next day. Glad you captured so much of the beauty in your photos.

    • rmdub

      Thanks man! Snowy Zion seems like it would be pretty amazing. Some day…

  • Josh Siegel

    Great photoset. One tip I’d give folks considering that area is that up on the east gate side of Zion Canyon over towards the 89 also has great riding as you exit the park. And, if you bring your gravel / cross bike, there are numerous high country dirt roads you can explore. You can ride south on 89 towards Kanab which is also beautiful and quite different than the lower desert floor.

  • Tyler

    …Florida sucks

  • Kyle Kelley

    HOLLA! If the booze was easier to come by…I’d be there in an instant!

  • Stuart Hetherington

    Damn @disqus_o1aRMdPrRF:disqus, you are going so hard these days. Since following you on Instagram and seeing your posts on this site you have inspired me to appreciate the character of the road and the landscape so much. Your a real inspiration dude.

    • rmdub

      Thanks man!

  • http://theculturechick.tumblr.com/ TheCultureChick

    what is the name of the paved road that is over 10,000 ft?

    • rmdub

      It’s Highway 148 near Cedar Breaks National Monument.

  • Mark Reimer

    @disqus_o1aRMdPrRF:disqus wow photo #34 of the light on the Zion switchbacks is amazing! Looks like a real hard exposure to nail too. My favourite of the bunch.

  • Nate Kaiser

    i’m heading to zion area with my bike next week and was wondering where the heck i was going to ride and now i’ve got some great places to start, routes and photos look great ryan, thanks for sharing! when you headed up the zion switchbacks did your route end at the tunnel or did you head through it? from what i’ve read it’s illegal and sketchy as hell for cyclists to go through the tunnel…

    • rmdub

      You have to hitch through the tunnel (there is a sign that suggests it), because they have a park ranger at each side stopping you from entering. Personally, I would have loved to ride from the top through it with a taillight. It’s so narrow that cars don’t even go very fast through it.

  • Salim Riley

    #roadporn

  • James Acklin

    This set is amazing. I did a backpacking / climbing trip through the Southwest before my first year of college (the same exact national parks, even!). You managed to capture exactly what I remember it looking like. Huge kudos.

  • TaylorSizemore

    Some of the best looking land there is!

  • http://weightshift.com/ Naz Hamid

    As others have noted, #34!

    Ryan: what camera do you use for these?

    • rmdub

      Usually a Sony RX100 mkii

      • http://weightshift.com/ Naz Hamid

        Thanks! Was guessing that might be the case: the size befits the pocketability.